Monday, October 26, 2009

The Last Days of John Brown: Prisoners And Fugitives

Ten men were killed during John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia in October 1859. All but two were buried in a common grave on the Shenandoah River, across from Harpers Ferry. The body of Jeremiah Anderson, who was bayoneted in the final storming of the engine house, was handed over to a local medical school – his last resting place remains unknown. Watson Brown’s body was given over to Winchester Medical College where it remained until Union troops recovered it during the Civil War and burned the school in reprisal.

Many of the locals at Harpers Ferry, taking advantage of what had become an unofficial holiday for them, had been drinking all day. When Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived at Harpers Ferry his first action was to close the town’s saloons.

Locals failed to report retaliatory attacks on African Americans for their support of the raid, but one man allegedly drowned while trying to cross the river and another died in jail during the days after the raid. Recent research by Jean Libby and Hannah Geffert indicates others may have fought and died during the raid.

Five men were captured alive. Aaron Stevens, having been shot several times was suffering horribly. Edwin Coppoc, along with African Americans John Copeland and Shields Green were relatively unharmed. John Brown, bleeding heavily from several head wounds and from being stabbed with a sword, was not expected to live.

Seven men initially escaped. Albert Hazlett and Osbourne Anderson fled to the Kennedy farm and then from a hill above saw the battle at the engine house. They waited until the militia arrived before fleeing north to Pennsylvania. When Hazlett became incapacitated with blisters on his feet then men separated. Hazlett was captured on October 22nd in Newville, Pennsylvania.

The other five men – John Cook, Barclay Coppock, Francis Merriam, and Charles Tidd – led by Owen Brown, went overland toward Pennsylvania through the mountains. Chased by bloodhounds, the men waded in streams, traveled at night and built no fires; they arrived safe in the north after 36 days. All that is, except Cook who was captured by fugitive slave hunter Daniel Logan near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Of the five who made it north to freedom, all but Owen Brown served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Two died during the Civil War: Barclay Coppoc and Charles Tidd. Francis Meriam served as a captain in the Third South Carolina Colored Infantry and died suddenly in November of 1865 in New York City.

Osborne Perry Anderson, the only surviving African-American member of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, survived the Civil War (although Owen Brown lived to be the last surviving member). Anderson penned a memoir about the raid entitled A Voice From Harper’s Ferry in which he wrote:

“The first report of the number of ‘insurrectionists’ killed was seventeen, which showed that several slaves were killed; for there were only ten of the men that belonged to the Kennedy Farm who lost their lives at the Ferry, namely: John Henri Kagi, Jerry Anderson, Watson Brown, Oliver Brown, Stewart Taylor, Adolphus Thompson, William Thompson, William Leeman, all eight whites, and Dangerfield Newby and Lewis Leary, both colored. The rest reported dead, according to their own showing, were colored.”

Although seven more would be executed by the state, here is a list of those identified as being killed in the actual attempt to free the slaves of Harpers Ferry, Virgina.

Dangerfield Newby
Shot and killed in the retreat from the Potomac Bridge, the first of John Brown’s men to to die. His body was mutilated and thrown to the hogs.

John Kagi
Shot in the back while trying to cross the river with John Copeland and Lewis Leary.

Lewis Leary
Shot in the back while trying to cross the river with John Copeland and John Kagi.

William Thompson (of North Elba)
Captured while under a flag of truce and then tortured and murdered by a mob of locals who threw his body into the river when they were done with it.

Will Leeman
Murdered while surrendering by George A. Schoppert while attempting to cross the river for reinforcements. His body was used for target practice by locals.

Stewart Taylor
Killed in the afternoon fighting.

Dauphin Thompson (of North Elba)
Bayoneted to a wall in the final storming of the engine house.

Jeremiah Anderson
Bayoneted in the final storming of the engine house.

Oliver Brown
Wounded in the afternoon fighting. He is believed to have died during the night before the final storming of the engine house.

Watson Brown
Shot and killed while under a second flag of truce (during which Aaron Stevens was wounded). He laid wounded in the engine house and was carried to a bench afterward where he died the next morning.

Photo: The prisoners in an illustration from Harper’s Weekly, Nov 12 1859.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

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